The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, Ship it on the Frisco!

The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, commonly known as the "Frisco," has a storied history of two halves. During its first 60 years the company struggled mightily with a tumultuous history of name changes and bankruptcies.  It tried many times to create a transcontinental corridor but failed in every attempt.  The much larger Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe was predominantly responsible for this setback as it sought its own route to the coast.  After settling into a regional role serving parts of Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama the Frisco blossomed into a successful railroad.  Its status was further enhanced by reaching the Gulf Coast (Florida) during the 1920s where the lucrative petrochemical industry later developed.  Following one last bankruptcy, brought about by the depression, it spent the last 30 years as a healthy carrier.  Throughout its corporate history the Frisco was not your typical Midwestern "granger" system as it carried a culture all its own, right down to a self-designed coonskin logo. Both its own prosperity and the merger movement were growing during the 1970s, which led to its acquisition by western giant Burlington Northern in 1981.

The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway's story begins in Mach of 1849 when the Pacific Railroad (PR) was chartered by the State of Missouri for the purpose of linking St. Louis with the Pacific coast. The transcontinental concept was an aspiring but daunting one given that no railroad had yet accomplished such a feat (and ultimately would not for another two decades).  Nevertheless, the project pressed forward and by July of 1853 the first 38 miles to Franklin, Missouri (now known as Pacific) was finished.  Alas, like so many grand schemes it became extremely difficult maintaining the needed cashflow and before long the PR ran out of money.  In his book, "Classic American Railroads: Volume III," author and historian Mike Schafer notes that to procure further funding and interest the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad was incorporated for the purpose of opening a southwestern corridor from Franklin to Rolla.  It is here where the Frisco's story begins. Construction was launched on July 19, 1853 but required upwards of seven years before the line was finally completed in 1860.  Before further work could be undertaken the country was plunged into the Civil War.  Damage sustained during the conflict, coupled with further financial difficulties, placed the entire PR system under Missouri state control in February of 1866.

A few months later, in June of 1866, the original Pacific Railroad between St. Louis and Kansas City was sold while the Southwest Branch fell into the hands of General John Fremont.  Over the years he had been involved with numerous projects and renamed his latest investment as the Southwest Pacific Railroad with continued aspirations of reaching San Francisco.  The general's grand ambitions lacked any strong financial backing, however, and he was never able to build beyond Rolla.  The property was subsequently reacquired by the state in June of 1867 whereupon it became the South Pacific Railroad in May of 1868.  Under this latest incarnation the system maintained transcontinental intentions as rails were extended from Rolla to Springfield with grading completed as far as Seneca.  Before further work could be undertaken monetary shortfalls led to yet another name change in 1870 as the Atlantic & Pacific Railway.  The A&P remained focused on the west coast although, despite its grandiose name, was primarily interested in a western route from Springfield only.

The Coonskin Logo

Arguably the Frisco's most identifiable feature was its unique logo.  The railroad remained true to its Ozark Mountain heritage and paid homage to such through its iconic emblem.  In Mr. Collias's book he relates the story, handed down through the company, which led to its creation: "As related by the company, the station agent at Neosho, Missouri, in 1900 augmented his income by trapping and skinning raccoons and selling the pelts.  His practice was to tack hides up to dry on the west end of the depot building.  One day, after an obviously successful evening of hunting, the private car of Vice-President G.H. Nettleton rolled into the station in full view of the coonskins tacked up to dry.  When Mr. Nettleton inquired about the use of company property for hide tanning, the station agent replied that it was very hard to support a family on his salary of $1.25 for a ten-hour work day and his supplemental income was a must.  Then Nettleton asked, somewhat accusingly, 'Don't you know railroading comes first?', and then grinned and said, 'Well, a hobby is different, how much for one of those coonskins?' Following an exchange of two dollars, Mt. Nettleton reboarded his private car with the coonskin, leaving a puzzled station agent behind.  Shortly thereafter a drawing indicative of a tightly stretched coonskin with the word FRISCO enclosed within its boundaries appeared in the corporate office and the Frisco trademark was born."

Despite Fremont's lack of success he was able to secure roughly one million acres in federal land grants, which greatly aided the A&P's efforts.  By 1870 the railroad was operating a continuous, 300-mile corridor from Pacific, Missouri to Vinita, Indian Territory (later Oklahoma).  It had began efforts on a disconnected western segment between Isleta, New Mexico and Needles, California before financial struggles arose and the company slipped into bankruptcy once again on October 30, 1875.  What followed was a complicated corporate shakeup.  At that time the A&P controlled not only the previously mentioned trackage but also the original Pacific Railroad (reorganized as the Missouri Pacific Railway in 1872) main line between St. Louis and Kansas City.  On September 11, 1876 the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway was incorporated for the purpose of acquiring the A&P's assets between Pacific-Vinita while the newly formed Missouri Pacific would pick up the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor. With now entirely separate managements, the StL&SF no longer had a direct entry into St. Louis.  For some time it utilized MP trackage rights but the high rental charges of this affair led to the opening of its own line in 1883. 

Frisco's Fleet Of Passenger Trains

Black Gold: (Tulsa - Fort Worth)

Firefly: (Tulsa - Oklahoma City)

Kansas City-Florida Special: (Kansas City - Jacksonville)

Memphian: (St. Louis - Memphis)

Meteor: (St. Louis - Oklahoma City/Fort Smith)

Oklahoman: Originally connected Kansas City and Tulsa and later served St. Louis and Oklahoma City.

Southland: (Kansas City - Birmingham)

Sunnyland: (Kansas City/St. Louis - Atlanta/Pensacola)

Texas Special:  (St. Louis - Dallas/Fort Worth - San Antonio)

Will Rogers: (St. Louis - Oklahoma City/Wichita)

During the 1880's StL&SF established routes throughout the southern Midwest as it continued to work on a California extension.  This new trackage included Pierce City, Missouri - Wichita, Kansas (originally finished in 1880 it was pushed west to Ellsworth in 1888 for a connection with Union Pacific); an extension of the main line to Sapulpa, via Tulsa, by 1886; and finally a branch from Monett, Missouri to Paris, Texas (completed in 1887 it opened an interchange with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe, a Santa Fe subsidiary).  By 1890 it boasted a network of 1,800 miles.  Unfortunately, hopes of reaching the west coast were eventually dashed.  According to Keith Bryant, Jr.'s book, "History of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway," the new Frisco intended to establish a California corridor by working in conjunction with the Santa Fe.  The much larger railroad would be used from a connection at Wichita to Albuquerque where the StL&SF would then use its new line as far west as Needles and a Southern Pacific interchange.  The AT&SF realized the potential danger of this new threat and worked out a comprise with Frisco officials.  What was known as the Tripartite Agreement was signed by both parties on November 14, 1879 which essentially gave Santa Fe total control of the railroad and A&P charter into California.  Things remained this way until the financial Panic of 1893 forced the Frisco back into receivership. It emerged in June of 1896 as the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad and free of Santa Fe's influence.

Once independent the railroad began another round of rapid expansion as it centered on a Midwestern network only: its main line was extended west of Sapulpa to Oklahoma City in 1898 and finally Altus, Oklahoma in 1903 (In 1909 it gained control of the Quanah, Acme & Pacific which extended this western terminus to Floydada, Texas.  For many years the location was an important interchange with the Santa Fe.); south of Sapulpa service opened to Denison, Texas in 1901; it gained access to Carrolton by purchasing the small Red River, Texas & Southern Railway while trackage rights over the St. Louis Southwestern and Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island) provided access into Dallas/Fort Worth; in 1898 it first reached Kansas City on a new corridor built as the Kansas City, Osceola & Southern (later nicknamed the "High Line") from Springfield, Missouri via Clinton and Osceola; it completed an east-west branch between Ardmore, Oklahoma and Hope, Arknasas in 1903 (built as the St. Louis, San Francisco & New Orleans); lastly, four years later a new branch opened between Beaumont, Kansas and Vernon, Texas which linked Wichita with its Altus line.  Its largest single acquisition was the 1901 lease of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railway (KCFtS&M) which joined Kansas City with Baxter Springs, Kansas (a connection later opened between Baxter Springs and Frisco's main line at Afton, Oklahoma).

In turn, the KCFtS&M also controlled the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis (Springfield-Memphis, Tennessee) as well as the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham (Memphis-Birmingham, Alabama).  Another interesting subsidiary was the Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield which roughly paralleled the "High Line" between Springfield and Kansas City albeit over a less noteworthy route.  It was notoriously referred to as the "Leaky Roof" and before its abandonment offered the Frisco one of three different options into Kansas City (the other running between Springfield and Fort Scott).  Expansion also took place in the east where a north-south bridge line opened between St. Louis-Memphis while purchase of the Gulf Coast Lines (GSL) provided access into that region.  The former was built as the St. Louis, Memphis & Southeastern, opening in 1904 as far as Marion, Arkansas (along the Memphis - Springfield main line).  By acquiring the GSL the Frisco gained a route between New Orleans and Brownsville via Houston.  This late-era growth was all thanks to the Reid-Moore Syndicate which took control of the Frisco in 1903.  The speculators also acquired the Rock Island, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, and Fort Worth & Rio Grande (It was added in 1901, running between Fort Worth and Brady, Texas. The system was later sold to the Santa Fe in 1937.) in a grand attempt to establish a powerful transcontinental railroad.

Their efforts ballooned Frisco's network to 5,260 miles but it came at great cost as the syndicate overextended their finances.  The incredibly complex and expensive boondoggle ultimately failed, resulting in the Frisco bankruptcy in 1913.  It emerged on June 19, 1916 as the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway but was separated from both the C&EI and GSL (the C&EI became independent once more while the Gulf Coast Lines were later picked up by Missouri Pacific).  Better days were in store as Frisco began upgrading infrastructure to position itself as a strong regional carrier.  Its final noteworthy expansion took place in July of 1925 by acquiring the 142-mile Muscle Shoals, Birmingham & Pensacola running between Kimbrough, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.  The move reestablished service to the Gulf Coast and the railroad hurriedly completed a 152-mile link from Kimbrough to Aberdeen, Mississippi (opened on June 27, 1928).  Two decades later it gained another Gulf Coast route by purchasing the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern (operating between Reform and Mobile, Alabama) on December 28, 1948.

The 1920s were generally good with a strengthening freight business and further property upgrades through the installation of centralized traffic control and fleet of high quality/rebuilt locomotives (thanks to its West Springfield Shops).  Attention to its physical plant would pay off when the Great Depression brought about bankruptcy on November 1, 1932.  As traffic and the economy slowly recovered the Frisco's well-maintained property was ready for the onslaught of business during World War II.  It handled a record 9.4 billion ton-miles in 1944 and the brisk traffic brought an end to receivership in January of 1947.  The company's final thirty years were its best thanks to a growing petrochemical industry along the Gulf Coast.  It also diversified into other traffic such as zinc, paper, automobile components, and general merchandise.  The Frisco became well-known at this time for providing reliable, high-speed service over its 5,100-mile network.  As upgrades continued during its latter years key portions of its main arteries were double-tracked while CTC-protected territory was extended.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built
RS1101-1111944-1947
S2290-2941948-1949
RS2550-5541949
FA-15200-52311948-1949
FB-15300-53151948-1949

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built
VO-1000200-2371942-1946
DS-4-4-1000238-2411948
VO-66060-611942

Davenport

Model Type Road Number Date Built
44-Tonner1-21942

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built
GP15-1100-1241977
NW2250-2651948-1949
SD38-2296-2991979
SW7300-3041951
SW9305-3141952
SW1500315-3601968-1973
MP15DC361-3651975
GP38-2400-478, 663-6991972-1976
GP7500-549, 555-6321950-1953
GP38AC633-6621971
GP35700-7321964-1965
GP40-2750-7741979
SD45900-9481967-1969
SD40-2950-9571978
E7A2000-20051947
E8A2006-20221950
F3A5000-50171948
F3B5100-51171948
F7A5018-50391949-1950
F7B5118-51391949-1953
FP75040-50511950-1951
F9B5140-51521954-1957

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built
H10-44270-2811948-1949
H12-44282-2851950

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built
44-Tonner4-81943
45-Tonner111941
U25B800-831*1961-1966
U30B832-8621968-1975
B30-7863-8701977

* #812-815 were ex-demonstrators #51-54.

Whitcomb

Model Type Road Number Date Built
44DE-1831943

Steam Locomotive Roster (All-Time)

Number(s)

1-60 (2nd)

26-35, 38, 40, 43 (1st)

44 (1st)

45-50 (1st)

51-52 (1st)

53-54 (1st), 56-60 (1st)

62-65, 67-70

72 (2nd), 73

72-73 (1st), 74 (1st)

75 (1st)

74-75 (2nd)

76-77 (1st), 78

76-77 (2nd)

91-93

94-95

96-103

104

105-107

108-113

114-115

130-135

136-137

138-143

144-145

146-147

148-151

152-154

155-157

158-159

160-162

182-183

184-187

188-189

190-195

200-204

205-219

220-229

300-303

304-353

354-358

359-362

363-364

365-366

367-368

389-397

398-399

400-409

410-415

416-427

428-447, 467, 479-484

448-466

487-515

516-548

549-557

558-567

568-572

573-584

585-599

600-609

610-628

629-633

634-668

669-693

695-699

700-704

705-724

727-741

742-799

801-818

819-828

829-833

834-835

850-851

860-861

870-871

950-951

956-965

970-989

1000-1009

1010-1014

1015-1039

1040-1059

1060-1069

1060-1069

1100-1111

1200-1280

1281-1292

1293-1305

1306-1345

1400-1409

1500-1529

1613-1623

1624, 1626

1625

1627-1632

2001-2007

2232-2237

2238

2241

2252

2253

2260

2263

2264

2265-2266

2267

2274-2275

2650-2652

2653-2658

2659-2666

2667-2668

2669

2670-2675

2676-2691

2692-2695

2698

2699

2700-2715

2716-2719

2720-2723

2724-2730

2731-2733

2734-2737

3540-3548

3600-3601

3602-3610

3611-3629, 3631

3632-3639

3641-3642

3643-3646

3647

3648-3657

3660-3661

3662-3663

3664-3667

3668-3669

3670

3671-3675

3676-3695

3698

3700-3712

3713-3722

3730

3731-3752

3800-3806

4000, 4001, 4004, 4006-4032

4002, 4003, 4005

4100-4164

4200-4219

4300-4310

4400-4422

4500-4524

Wheel Arrangement

2-10-2

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

2-6-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-6-0

4-4-0

2-8-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

2-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

4-6-2

4-6-2

4-6-2

4-6-2

4-6-2

4-6-4

4-6-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

4-6-0

4-8-2

2-10-0

2-10-0

2-10-0

2-10-0

2-8-8-2

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-4-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

4-6-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

2-8-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-4-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

0-6-0

2-8-2

2-8-2

2-8-2

2-8-2

4-8-2

4-8-2

4-8-4

Builder

Baldwin

Hinkley

Pittsburgh

Rogers

Cooke

Manchester

Manchester

Baldwin

Manchester

Manchester

Baldwin

Manchester

Baldwin

Hinkley

Cooke

Manchester

Baldwin

Pittsburgh

Baldwin

Pittsburgh

Rogers

Cooke

Baldwin

Rhode Island

NY Locomotive Works

Rogers

Baldwin

Cooke

Union Pacific

Schenectady

Alco/Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Alco/Pittsburgh

Alco/Dickson

Alco/Pittsburgh

Alco/Dickson

Rhode Island

Rogers

Baldwin

Rhode Island

Baldwin

Brooks

Alco

Alco/Brooks

Dickson

Cooke

Baldwin

Rogers

Cooke

Baldwin

Rogers

Pittsburgh

Baldwin

Alco/Pittsburgh

Alco/Cooke

Baldwin

Alco/Pittsburgh

Alco/Dickson

Alco/Richmond

Baldwin

Alco

Baldwin

Alco/Dickson

Alco/Brooks

Alco/Dickson

Alco/Brooks

Alco

Baldwin

Dickson

Alco/Pittsburgh

Alco/Richmond

Alco/Brooks

Alco/Brooks

Brooks

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Alco/Dickson

Baldwin

Alco/Brooks

Baldwin

Baldwin

Alco

Baldwin

Frisco

Alco

Baldwin

Alco/Brooks

Baldwin

Alco

Baldwin

Baldwin

Alco/Richmond

Alco/Brooks

Alco

Baldwin

Alco

Manchester

Rhode Island

Cooke

Portland

Baldwin

Taunton

Rogers

Schenectady

Altoona (PRR)

Manchester

Baldwin

Rogers

Baldwin

Manchester

Rogers

Baldwin

Rogers

Rhode Island

Pittsburgh

Brooks

Baldwin

Baldwin

Rogers

Cooke

Baldwin

Rogers

Altoona (PRR)

Frisco

Manchester

Hinkley

Baldwin

Pittsburgh

Baldwin

Rogers

Cooke

Baldwin

Manchester

Cooke

Baldwin

Hinkley

Alco/Pittsburgh

Baldwin

Baldwin

Pittsburgh

Alco/Dickson

Baldwin

Alco

Baldwin

Alco

Lima

Alco

Baldwin

Baldwin

Frisco

Frisco

Baldwin

Date Built/Notes

1916-1917

1878-1881

1885

1880

1886

1883-1884

1883-1884

1913

1884

1882

1916

1882

1925

1869

1893, 1888

1880-1881

1893

1885

1885-1887

1890

1883

1884

1888

1889

1888

1886

1886

1884-1889

1890

1889

1902

1899-1900

1901

1907

1902

1902-1903

1903

1886

1886-1892

1891

1897-1899

1893

1909

1910

1882

1882

1879

1880

1884

1887-1893

1887-1888

1890-1893

1898-1903

1901

1902

1902-1903

1902

1903

1902

1903-1904

1905

1904

1903

1906

1903

1906

1905

1903

1900

1902

1902

1903

1905

1900

1897, 1899

1900

1902

1906-1907

1904

1904*

1910*

1912*

1917 (Rebuilt into 4-6-4's)

1937-1941 (Ex-4-6-2's)

1907

1907-1909

1910

1910

1912

1907

1923-1926

1917-1918

1918

1918

1918

1910

1870

1881

1888

1882

1898

Unknown

Unknown

1883

Unknown

Unknown

1886

1882

1870-1873

1883-1884

1882

1870

1885

1888-1889

1886

1899

1871

1881

1881

1884

1886

1884

1876-1877

`1923

1883

1882-1885

1886-1888

1893-1901

1881-1882

1882

1892

1906

1883

1885

1893

1882

1902

1904

1905-1906

1889

1906-1907

1907

1907

1910

1919

1919

1919

1923-1926

1930

1936-1937**

1939-1942**

1942-1943

*  Many of these Pacifics were rebuilt by Frisco's West Springfield Shops between 1936 and 1943.

** Rebuilt by the West Springfield Shops from former 2-10-2's.

Thanks to author Joe Collias's book "Frisco Power: Locomotives And Trains Of The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, 1903-1953," for help with much of the above roster information.



It opened a high tech “hump” yard in Memphis (whereby an inclined track and computer-controlled switches guided cars into their correct staging track), streamlined/consolidated operations wherever possible, initiated run-through freights with other carriers ("pooling), and was successful in petitioning the Interstate Commerce Commission to eliminate remaining passenger services entirely on December 8, 1967 with the Southland's termination. This process had been launched nearly a decade earlier when on January 5, 1959 the Texas Special was discontinued.  The once-glamorous streamliner was a joint service with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad but the Katy's declining physical plant and shoddy equipment irritated Frisco management, leading to the train's cancellation.  In 1965 it attempted to discontinue remaining services but was initially denied by the ICC.  With $7 million in losses annually, however, it persisted until winning approval two years later, making it the largest freight-only railroad up to that time.  By the 1970's the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway had transformed itself into a very attractive property and caught the eye of the much larger Burlington Northern, which formally acquired the road on June 8, 1981.

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